Claims that Japan does not accept any refugees are false

9 June 2023
What was claimed

Japan is not accepting refugees.

Our verdict

Incorrect. Although the number has always been low, Japan does accept a small number of refugees each year and many more are allowed to remain on humanitarian grounds.

A Facebook post incorrectly claims that Japan does not allow asylum applications from refugees as it wants to give priority to its own nationals. 

The post says: “Japan not taking in refugees; says it must look after its citizens first. Now...THERE'S an idea!”

Although Japan has historically accepted only very low numbers of refugees, it is incorrect to say that it does not accept any at all. 

Full Fact has previously written about similar Facebook posts. The comments may have originated from a 2015 speech at a UN general assembly in New York by then Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe. Asked about taking in refugees from Syria, he said the country needed to improve the living standards of its own citizens first. 

Misleading claims which circulate online have the potential to harm individuals, groups and democratic processes and institutions. Online claims can spread fast and far, and are difficult to contain and correct.

Honesty in public debate matters

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How many refugees does Japan accept?

During the late 1970s, in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, Japan took in more than 10,000 refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Since 2000, the numbers have averaged around 30 per year. 

Japan currently only recognises refugees who meet its specific interpretation of the criteria set by the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention: people who may face individual persecution for their "race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion." This means that many people applying for asylum, such as those fleeing conflict, do not qualify.

Prior to 2022, Japan’s refugee acceptance rate was around 1%.

According to the country’s Immigration Services Agency, 2,413 people applied for refugee status in 2021 but only 74 were successful. A further 580 foreign nationals were allowed to stay in Japan on the grounds of humanitarian considerations. During 2022, 3,772 applied for refugee status, of whom 202 were accepted. A further 1,760 were admitted on humanitarian status, mostly coming from Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Myanmar and Pakistan, according to the Japan Times.

Since March 2022, Japan has also allowed more than 2,300 Ukrainians into the country but rather than classing them as refugees, they have been designated “evacuees” in order to grant them entry on a temporary basis without requiring a change of government policy. Ukranians can then apply for a designated activities visa allowing them to remain in Japan for a further year.

Image courtesy of JJ Ying

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